22 February 2023
RFPs, RFIs, RFQs… there’s a lot to know about the various documents involved when it comes to moving your freight—but don’t fret, in this article, we’re diving into everything you need to know about freight RFPs—or requests for proposal.
In this freight RFP template, we:
- outline the eight key steps of the RFP framework
- dive into nine pieces of information to include in your RFP document
- offer some extra tips for getting the most out of your RFPs
What is an RFP?
Shippers use a freight RFP to request, evaluate, and secure contracts with providers, third party logistics (3PLs), and carriers. The RFP (and resulting contracts) cover various freight operations like a specific shipping lane or shipment size.
With the ultimate goal of creating a mutually beneficial partnership, the questionnaire-style RFP document details the shipper’s needs and asks for information about the potential partner.
Although variable based on the freight operation needed, shippers typically ask several vendors to submit RFPs and then select the top two or three with the best rates and service commitments.
Read our article What is a freight and logistics RFP? to learn more about:
- the best time to send RFPs
- who in your organization should be responsible for them
- when to use an RFI or an RFQ instead of an RFP
- and more
The RFP framework
In order to create and manage a truly successful RFP process, there are eight key steps to follow. Within these steps, there are imperative pieces of information to include in your RFP document.
Step 1: Define the scope of needs
Potential partners need detailed information in order to determine if they feel working with you is a good fit for their needs and abilities and, if so, to provide an accurate pricing quote.
To start, gather some basic background information about your company, outlining:
- your products
- customer segments and insights
- other vendors you work with
- relevant competitors
- key team members and stakeholders
Next, involve key decision makers and stakeholders to identify any overarching company goals—then include these objectives in your RFP.
It’s good practice to highlight the problems that need solving and let vendors showcase their insight and expertise by offering you ideas for solutions. You never know what unexpectedly beneficial ideas, tactics, or partnerships you may discover that way.
Step 2: Set evaluation criteria
Before you dive into finding companies to send your RFP to, don’t skip the crucial step of determining how you’re going to evaluate potential partners. Setting specific evaluation criteria ahead of time will help the decision-making process run smoother once you receive proposals.
A few examples of initial questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- What are specific capabilities and qualifications you’re looking for?
- What are the minimum standards required for you to even consider a vendor?
- Will you give priority to companies you currently work (or have previously worked) with?
Next, set up very clear guidelines about what you either require or desire—determining mandatory requirements and key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use.
What do you require from a freight shipping partner?
Of course, you’re going to want to include the specific freight operation you’re writing this RFP about, such as a particular lane or shipment size.
You may also be looking for things like:
- licensing or certifications
- fleet and network size
- certain coverage areas
- technology used, such as EDI/API
- ESG (aka sustainability) requirements
What do you ideally want to see from a freight shipping partner?
Decide what matters most to your operation, and stick to roughly 2-3 KPIs that best represent those objectives. Selecting more than three can quickly become an overwhelming, time-consuming task.
The three most common KPIs—and the industry standard way of measuring them—are:
90% of orders should be ‘perfect orders’—meaning it arrives on time, in full, with no issues or damages.
2. On-time delivery
A minimum of 90% on-time delivery is typical.
What does ‘on time’ mean? That varies. Determine what’s best for your business, which could mean that the delivery falls:
- within a multi-day window
- on a specific date
- within certain hours on a specific date
Get specific about what works for you.
24-48 hour response times are reasonable expectations to hold. Working with communicative suppliers keeps stress low, customers informed, and profit healthy.
You may want to factor into this measurement how quickly the partner:
- acknowledges new shipments
- accept or reject order changes
- informs you on unexpected delays
- generally answer questions
Additional KPI ideas
While quality, on-time delivery, and responsiveness are the most common KPIs, your operation may have different needs.
- safety ratings
- load rejection rate
- claims rate
- average dwell time
- average loading and unloading times
- time between tender and scheduling
- fuel efficiency
Yes, all of these things affect your business, but just remember to only stick to the 2-3 most important ones.
Step 3: Identify potential suppliers
Once you’ve gathered information about what you’re looking for, you need to start getting an idea of who you’re looking for: potential partners.
A great place to start is by looking at vendors you’re currently working with or with whom you’ve (successfully) worked in the past. As the saying goes… If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, right? If it’s been going well, you may want to try to re-contract with companies you know you work well with.
BUT make sure you aren’t missing out on better options by staying with something familiar. It’s worthwhile to at least look around because expanding your network of carriers not only introduces you to more contacts in the industry, it helps build your credibility.
Next, do a little research around any referrals you’ve received from trusted sources. If someone you trust likes them, they’re probably worth looking into.
Use freight providers to your advantage when looking for new potential partnerships. At Flock Freight, we only work with vetted carriers, so you know they’ll be reliable partners.
When creating your list of potential RFP recipients, it’s imperative to consider their:
Background and experience
- Do they have trusted experience in the industry?
- What’s their experience handling needs similar to yours?
- Do they offer something unique, like shared truckloads?
Reputation and references
- Do you know anyone who has worked with them before?
- Can you find reviews online?
- Is there anything particularly good, interesting, or concerning about them that you should be aware of?
Step 5: Create the RFP document
Now that you’ve determined your needs and found potential partners, it’s time to create the actual RFP document.
Be sure to include the information you already determined around your:
- company introduction
- business needs
- mandatory requirements
Then move on to the following components:
Terms and conditions
There’s some logistical pieces of information that your RFP should clearly spell out, including:
- standard operating procedures (SOP)
- general terms and conditions (GTC)
- length of contract and contract terms
- payment and billing terms
- limits on what you’re comfortable with for things such as fuel surcharges and accessorials, like blind shipments and detention fees
Be sure to specify if any of these are negotiable.
Scope of work
In order to give potential partners an extremely deep and accurate look into what is being asked of the partnership, truly successful RFPs get into the weeds of the nitty gritty.
Dive deep into details on:
- freight volume, weight, and dimensions
- freight classification and handling requirements such as fragility, perishability, etc.
- special accessorial, loading and unloading, and equipment needs
- cargo types utilized
- declared values
- shipping frequency
- pickup, delivery, and lane zip codes
- known seasonality or variability
- delivery windows
- average pick-up wait times and detention times at destinations
- facility profiles, including hours
- historical costs and pricing structures for your freight (for comparison)
Accessorial fees unexpectedly cost shippers $1,000s per year, so clearly and openly spelling out all of your accessorial needs now will help everyone involved avoid surprise fees—and headaches—later. Or avoid accessorials altogether with an accessorial-free alternative like our shared truckload shipping mode.
While it certainly takes time and effort to dig into this much information, getting very specific and open about your needs makes the process of finding—or eliminating—companies substantially easier for everyone involved. It also ensures companies that can’t meet your needs don’t waste their time bidding on something that isn’t going to work.
It’s well worth the upfront time now to save you—and them—a lot of effort later.
Key dates and deadlines
There are eight key dates to clearly list on your RFP.
Being transparent with these dates helps potential partners avoid any confusion that could make them miss deadlines—and you miss opportunities.
The dates and deadlines to specify are when:
- the bid opens
- questions are due or a conference call is being held
- first rate submissions are due
- partners get feedback after first submission (if applicable)
- second rate submissions are due
- final negotiations will be made
- awardees are notified
- when the contract starts
Thoughtfully select these dates to give bidders proper time to put together a good proposal. Typically RFPs are sent 6-8 weeks before budget decisions need to be made, but what the ideal timing looks like between specific dates depends on how intricate the RFP is.
Provide clear information about the bidding process in your RFP. Detail:
- submission requirements, including any documentation around the mandatory requirements outlined in step 2
- how to format responses
- how and where to submit any questions or feedback
To make the process smoother for you and the partner, include a single point of contact the partner can reach out to if they have questions or concerns. Sending a standardized bid template along with your RFP helps it easier to make more direct rate comparisons.
Familiarizing yourself with what carriers consider before deciding to bid on an RFP can help inform you on better ways to communicate your needs. Take a look at our article for carriers, How to Bid on Freight Contracts, to see what goes on on their end of things.
Want more information before creating your RFP?
Watch our Truckload RFP webinar with industry experts Todd LaFond and Justin Turner. In it, they share how:
- standard RFPs operate today
- you can get the most out of your RFPs
- Flock’s Instant Prebate program is changing the way shippers contract TL rates
Step 6: Distribute the RFP
So you’ve written up and properly formatted your full RFP. Now it’s time to send it out!
Email your RFP—and bid template, if you have one—to the potential partners you decided upon. Or, if you’re using one, send it to them through your RFP management software.
Then wait for companies to review it and respond with their bid by your specified submission deadline.
Step 7: Select your supplier(s)
Once you’ve got some bids, it’s time to put those evaluation criteria you set to work and compare your options.
When reviewing proposals, the first step is to eliminate any potential partners who did not meet your mandatory requirements. If they don’t even meet those, they aren’t going to be a good match.
The next step is to see who best met your identified KPIs. You’ll want to determine if you’d prefer they:
- hit all of your KPIs with the highest overall average
- don’t hit all of your KPIs but excelled in other important areas
You can absolutely select multiple partners so you aren’t left without a carrier if something goes wrong. We actually recommend that for your most important, high-volume lanes or common operations.
Consider, but don’t focus solely on price. A cheap vendor could end up costing you—and alternatively, a more expensive supplier could end up saving you—a lot in terms of damage, loss, delays, unhappy customers, and more.
Don’t forget to negotiate! This should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, so come to an agreement both parties like.
Before you do a final sign-off and award a supplier, ensure that expectations and rates are truly final. Carriers and other vendors often make bids based on contingencies, and with a market where things change quickly, you want to be sure you’re locking into something you’re comfortable with.
Step 8: Monitor success
Your work doesn’t end once you’ve agreed upon a supplier or few. To protect your profit, it’s important to monitor the success of the partnership.
Ensure your new partner is doing what they said they would. Schedule follow-up evaluations to confirm that they are meeting whatever requirements you outlined in the RFP.
Some questions to consider include:
- Are they meeting specific, agreed-upon goals and addressing the problems outlined?
- Are they staying within limits you set on things like fuel surcharges and accessorials?
Keep in mind that this should be a mutually beneficial partnership, and setting actionable goals and clearly communicating them is important for maintaining a healthy partnership.
Remember the KPIs you outlined? Record this data using standardized metrics to help you more easily evaluate, and compare, all of your vendors. Keep track of the information on a supplier scorecard that you either manually keep in a spreadsheet or manage with specific software.
While you’ll want to, of course, include quantitative KPI data on the scorecard, you should also consider keeping qualitative data, such as anecdotes and reviews. Yes, you’re running a business, but we’re all human here, and working with pleasant people can make the everyday challenges of business a lot easier.
Plus, if you’re ever in the position of needing to decide between two vendors and their quantitative KPIs are similar, positive real-life encounters may end up being the determining factor.
If mid-way through the year, you realize a KPI you’ve chosen to look at isn’t all that helpful, don’t be afraid to adjust, remove, or replace it. Don’t change your KPIs too often, but do make sure what you’re looking at is appropriate.
Ready to implement this freight RFP template?
Smartly navigating each step of the RFP process is crucial for selecting the best partners to meet your shipping needs—which ultimately keeps your business running smoothly and driving profit.
We hope this shipping RFP template helps you feel more confident going through each of the RFP framework’s phases and their accompanying documentation needs.
Want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your partnerships and operation as a whole? Book a call with Flock.
Not only will we create your RFP with you—working together through each step of this freight RFP template, we’ll also analyze your shipping history to see exactly how our one-of-a-kind FlockDirect® mode can save you money and boost your efficiency. It’s a truly unrivaled business-expanding opportunity.